In her BSO debut, JoAnn Falletta, music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, led the BSO through very well thought-through selections at the Shed on Saturday night. The opener, Fandangos by Roberto Sierra, mixed Afro-Caribbean, South and Central American and Spanish (routed in European) traditions. Unsuk Chin, from the earlier Ozawa Hall concert [HERE], he had also worked with György Ligeti. Sierra had developed a cosmopolitan style and technique in his native Puerto Rico. He told the audience that he built his piece on repetition, and that he drew inspiration from several composers who had written Fandangos, including Soler, Boccherini in his string quintet, Mozart in the Marriage of Figaro as well as Rimsky-Korsakov. Fandangos offers handshake between those earlier elements and today. The BSO trumpets, clarinets, horns and English horns started the piece rhythmically, followed by a melody in the strings, castanets and the trumpets embodying Mariachi players. The composer described the piece as “a bit crazy chatter”, which followed in different colors in the strings, woodwinds and percussion. These flirted with the violins, saxophone and harps and somewhat anticipated Respighi’s Pini di Roma. The orchestra played very accurately together while immersing in Sierra’s style.
Joshua Bell’s accomplishments as soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in the prohibitive heat and humidity achieved something remarkable. He seemed fully immersed into the score, shining with beautiful, silky tone, articulation, dynamic variation, while fully articulating every detail. In the first movement, the soloist displayed colorful contrasts of virtuoso espressivo and artistic melodies in the cantabile main theme, particularly in the high register during the end, followed by a remarkable display of dexterity. The BSO strings could also display their melodic unisono in the heroic tutti of this movement, and Joshua Bell’s expressivity and sensitivity alternated in the technically demanding cadenza, always maintaining perfectionistic attention to intonation. After a chorale-like start by the woodwinds, the soloist played the sweet cantabile in this somber second movement.
During this rather-long concerto, the tension never diminished; it even increased towards the end. The third movement carried many Russian elements; the spiccato demonstrated remarkable bow control and was especially pronounced, in conversation with the orchestra and also in contrast with the melodies the soloist played on the G string and followed by dramatic arpeggios and alternating flageolets. Carried aloft by the very attentive orchestra under a sensitive Falletta, the soloist reached an apotheosis. Standing ovations followed not just at the end but also after the first movement.
Ottorino Respighi’s lavish Fountain of Rome and Pines of Rome allowed the BSO musicians to shine individually and collectively in these “stereo-spectacular” symphonic poems constituting two thirds of his fascist-friendly “Roman Trilogy.” The pastoral landscape that the orchestra painted in flickering lights with muted strings in Fountain of Villa Giulia all’alba preceded a sudden blast of the horns and piccolos to introduce the Triton Fountain during mid-day. The strings and celeste evoked dancing jets with a joyous call leading up to a high point when the harp entered. Falletta depicted the Trevi Fountain’s more solemn theme followed by the trumpets evocation of Neptune’s chariot. The Fountains at the Villa Medici al tramonto concluded the aquatic procession with a nostalgic tune alternating in the strings and the woodwinds; concertmaster Tamara Smirnova and principal flute Elizabeth Rowe made much of their moments.
In The Pines of the Villa Borghese the orchestra sounded a joyful dance underlined by different solos in the trumpets and woodwinds before the strings and the brass became more prominent. The tone became much quieter as the deeper voices in the strings and woodwinds depicted the Pines Near a Catacomb. After pianist Vitas Baksys’s attractive interlude, William R. Hudgins’s trenchant clarinet solo alternated with celli, violins and oboe, concluded by clarinet and harp. In The Pines of the Janiculum, the BSO took on a contrasting lighter sound, including a solo in the English Horn, concluding with trumpets playing a military marching song and violins a high melody in the Pines of the Appian Way.
Thanks to the Shed acoustics, Falletta’s great ear for blend (and stereo mixers?), the musical, imagined, and actual landscapes merged perfectly.